RESPONDENT: Paula Jordan and Rebecca Bright
LOCATION: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
DOCKET NO.: 09-737
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
CITATION: 562 US 180 (2011)
GRANTED: Apr 26, 2010
ARGUED: Nov 01, 2010
DECIDED: Jan 24, 2011
Benjamin C. Mizer - Solicitor General of Ohio, for the respondents
David E. Mills - for the petitioner
Facts of the case
Michelle Ortiz, a former inmate, filed suit against several state and prison officials in an Ohio federal district court for violating her civil rights. While Ms. Ortiz served her sentence, she was sexually abused by a corrections officer on two consecutive nights. Prior to the second incident, Ms. Ortiz complained to prison officials, but was told "that the man was leaving," "this was his nature," and he "is just an old dirty man." The corrections officer assaulted her on the following night. At trial, the jury found in favor of Ms. Ortiz against two of the prison officials – Paula Jordan and Rebecca Bright.
On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed, holding that the prison officials were entitled to qualified immunity and dismissed the case. The court noted that while courts do not normally review the denial of summary judgment after a trial on the merits, a denial of summary judgment based on qualified immunity is an exception to the general rule. The court reasoned that Ms. Jordan's conduct did not violate Ms. Ortiz's Eight Amendment right to humane conditions because Ms. Jordan was not "deliberately indifferent" to Ms. Ortiz's plight.
May a party appeal an order denying summary judgment after a full trial on the merits if the party chose not to appeal the order before trial?
Media for Ortiz v. JordanAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 01, 2010 in Ortiz v. Jordan
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - January 24, 2011 in Ortiz v. Jordan
Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
This case presents a procedural question.
May a U.S. Court of Appeals review after trial a federal district court's denial of a pretrial motion for summary judgment?
The question arises -- arises in the context of a prisoner's civil right suit.
Petitioner Michelle Ortiz, a former inmate at -- in Ohio prison commenced an action for damages against two prison officers, Paula Jordan, Case Manager at Ortiz's living unit, and Rebecca Bright, a prison investigator.
On two consecutive nights, Ortiz alleged a prison guard sexually assaulted her.
She promptly reported the first assault, Ortiz for the alleged, but Officer Jordan though aware of the risk Ortiz faced did nothing to ward off the second assault.
Ortiz charged that Bright placed her, shackled and handcuffed in solitary confinement in a cell without adequate heat, clothing, bedding, or blankets.
Bright did saw according to Ortiz in retaliation for the complaints Ortiz made about the prison guards' assaults.
Jordan and Bright's conduct, Ortiz urged violated her right to reasonable protection from violence while in custody.
Before trial, Jordan and Bright moved for summary judgment based on their defense of qualified immunity.
That defense shields public officers from suit if their conduct did not violate any clearly established right.
Denying the officers' motion, the District Court explain that the force of their qualified immunity defense depended upon disputed facts within the province of a jury to resolve.
The case proceeded to trial and the jury returned sizable verdicts against both officers.
Appealing to the Sixth Circuit, Jordan and Bright argued that their pretrial summary judgment motion should have been granted.
Appellate Courts ordinarily do not reach that to review the denial of a pretrial summary judgment motion once a trial has taken place.
The Sixth Circuit so acknowledged.
But it relied on what it believed to be an exception to that rule when qualified immunity is at stake holding two-to-one that qualified immunity sheltered Jordan and Bright from Ortiz's suit, the Appeals Court reversed the judgment, entered on the jury's verdict.
We now reverse the Sixth Circuit's judgment.
There is no qualified immunity exception we hold to the rule that a pretrial summary judgment motion cannot be appealed after a case has been fully tried.
A plea of qualified immunity of course does not vanish what a District Court defines to rule on the plea summarily.
But at the trial, the defense must be evaluated in light of the character and quality of the evidence received in court.
The challenge's sufficiency of that evidence, a defendant can move post verdict for judgment as a matter of law.
Jordan and Bright did not do so, nor did they request a new trial on the ground that the weight of the evidence favored their qualified immunity defense.
The Court of Appeals therefore had no warrant to override the jury's verdict or the appraisal of the evidence made by the judge who saw and heard the witnesses and thereby gained a sense of the case no transcription of the record can impart.
Justice Thomas has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in which Justice Scalia and Justice Kennedy joined.